The Hangover

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Then there’s the misery of the hangover, the general feeling of illness that we wake up with the morning after we’ve had too much alcohol. The folk remedies for this affliction are many and ancient. In medieval times, the medical school of Salerno was already recommending the hair of the dog:

Si nocturna tibi noceat potatio vini,
Hoc tu mane bibas iterum, et fuerit medicina.
If an evening of wine does you in,
More the next morning will be medicine.
The hangover is in part a mild withdrawal syndrome. The night before, the body adjusted to a high concentration of alcohol and related narcotic chemicals, but by morning the drug is going or gone. Hypersensitivity to sound and light, for example, may be a leftover compensation for the general depression of the nervous system. The logic of the morning-after drink is simple but insidious: it restores many of the conditions to which the body had become accustomed, as well as lightly anesthetizing it. But this only postpones the body’s true recovery from intoxication.